Mayor Wood's Message--Proposal to Separate the City from the State
New York Journal of Commerce, January 8, 1861
The message of Mayor Wood to the Common Council of this city, will be read with attention, not only here but throughout the State. It treats exclusively of the relations of the City to the State at large, and presents, with much clearness and force, the invasions which the latter, acting through its Legislature, has made upon our rights.
With many, perhaps we should say with most of the complaints made by Mayor Wood, we fully agree. The policy pursued by the Legislature of the State towards the City has been an infamous one, subversive of the plainest principles of local government, and of the rights and privileges of the people of this locality. It is no sufficient excuse for this invasion of local rights, that corruption has sometimes obtained ascendancy in our administration, or that the interests of the people could be more effectually guarded, in some particulars, under State than under City management. The right to manage their own local affairs in their own way, is inherent; and the Legislature can only deprive us of it by violent and unwarranted usurpation, such as has been resorted to in numerous instances in past years.
It is peculiarly appropriate for the Chief Magistrate of New York, on occasions like the present, to point out the abuses which have grown up, the usurpations which have been practised, and the inroads upon vested rights which have been made by the Legislature. These abuses, usurpations and inroads, can never be justified, even upon the plea that they are designed to promote the welfare of the people of the city; but when notoriously if not avowedly designed to promote partizan ends, and to subject the independent citizens of this city to the domination of a central power, whose strength is to be perpetuated and success promoted by the control of the great amount of patronage thus placed at its disposal, they become simply oppressions, which may be resisted in every lawful and appropriate form until redress is obtained.
The Mayor seems to anticipate, in the disturbed state of the country, and the disintegration going on about us, the approach of the period when the people of the city of New York may throw off the burdens which oppress them, and assume independent existence as a "free city." That there is every probability of a disruption of the Union, and the separation of section from section, is indeed apparent. That such a breaking up of the confederacy may introduce new elements into our system, lead to new complications, and inaugurate with reference to ourselves a new policy, is not at all improbable. Deprecating as we should such a calamity, and hoping to the last for some method of averting it, we cannot, in the present condition of public affairs, refuse to recognize impending dangers, nor do we wonder that the thoughts and minds of our citizens are turned towards measures of self-protection and future security. If the Union shall indeed be broken up, it is not within the compass of man's wisdom to say where the work of disruption shall end. We have already seen its beginning, but its termination can no man understand, until the problem shall have been worked out before his eyes.
The vast commercial relations and the important position of the city of New York, render the present threatening aspect of political affairs a subject of great moment to her citizens, and they may stand justified before the world, for giving it their earnest-attention. If the Union is to be broken up, it is by no means certain that the division is to be strictly between the free and the slave States, or that sub-divisions may not follow, dictated by ideas of commercial supremacy or political economy. In any such changes the city and State of New York must play an important part, and her citizens will be prepared, first, to save the Union if that be possible—and next, to protect their own position, interests and rights. Our views of the attitude which the city of New York should assume in so grave an emergency, do not fully coincide with the opinions of Mayor Wood. While we agree with him mainly respecting the wrongs which the city has suffered at the hands of the State Legislature under partisan promptings, we still think that we have a more important part to play on the theatre of events, than to reduce ourselves to a "free city," confined to Manhattan Island. Our position is one of great local and commercial advantages, and we have no idea of surrendering these to any spirit of indignation, however justly entertained, against the party tyrants at Albany, who have lately managed to control our government, and cripple us in our privileges. We have no idea of imitating the hasty action of South Carolina, by separating ourselves summarily from our oppressors, but rather let our policy be, to stick by until we conquer them, and not only teach them to let us alone, but compel them, under the inexorable laws of trade, to contribute to our prosperity and promote our material interests. We have not the most remote idea of allowing "a foreign power" to obtrude itself between our "free city" and the great West, or of placing in the hands of any civil power whatever, the ability to cut us off from communication with the granary of the world—the fertile and productive prairies and plains of the Western States. Make the city of New York as free as the air which is wafted to us from the ocean, repudiate all authority on the part of the Legislature of the State to interfere with our local privileges and rights, but never must the commercial supremacy which nature has given us, be placed within reach of the cupidity or caprice of any human power. No; if any political changes must occur—if the Federal Union is to be broken into fragments—New York will take care of herself and of her position; but rather would we submit to all the commissions and taxes which the cupidity of the Albany tyrants can inflict upon us, than narrow our influence and our territory, to the limits suggested by the Mayor, in the message just delivered.
But we will not willingly submit to the exactions to which Mayor Wood so properly takes exception. We will resist them, and continue to resist them; and appealing to the justice of the people of the State, we will overthrow our oppressors, and secure our just rights. In this connection, however, we may proffer a word of advice to the people of this city. The best way to secure our rights and emancipate our city from the unjust burdens cast upon it, is, by inaugurating a respectable, an honorable, and an honest government. Let us prove ourselves alive to our own interests, and competent to manage them, and then let us say to the Legislature, "hands off,"—we prefer to take care of our own business.